It’s winter in the United States, and while that may mean something different in California than it does in, say, Maine, it’s still cold. The Chicagoan in me hangs his head in shame as the 50-degree temperatures feel like a polar vortex to my now-tender skin.
And what better time, honestly, than when there’s a chill in the weather to do a round-up of slushy, freezing-cold, blended coffee beverages? You may know them as Frappuccinos, Ice Blendeds, Frozen Coffees or one of a number of different monikers; I simply know them as an answer to the question: How can I turn my morning cup of coffee into dessert?
To reiterate, before my email inbox burns to the ground: This is not about coffee or iced coffee drinks. This is specifically aboutfrozen coffee drinks, those with a texture like a Slurpee or granita.
This is by no means an exhaustive survey, but I tried 45 different kinds of these puppies and eight distinct brands, so I feel like I have a good lay of the land. That, and I’ve ingested so much sugar, I’m more hopped up than a craft brewery in San Diego. I have not ranked these strictly by best to worst but rather have thrown them into loose categories: the good, the not so bad and the ugly.
Most of the Krispy Kreme Frozen Lattes
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that, yes, it’s doughnut specialist Krispy Kreme, of all places, that makes some of the best frozen coffee drinks you’ll find in all the land. They’ve figured out the texture perfectly — it’s creamy but not so thick you can’t sip it through a straw. It’s suitably slushy but doesn’t veer into excessively icy.
Now the bad news: Two flavors I absolutely loved, peppermint mocha and hazelnut, you may not be able to enjoy anytime soon. Peppermint mocha is a holiday flavor, and during a phone call to my local Krispy Kreme store, I was told — heartbreakingly, tragically told — that hazelnut would be discontinued sometime in January.
So here’s a brief eulogy for those flavors: R.I.P. hazelnut Frozen Latte. You actually tasted like a smooth, mild-roasted chocolate Ferrero Rocher candy instead of a mouthful of Coffee-mate. You will be missed. Peppermint mocha, we hardly knew ye. You had a potent mint punch and sweetness that didn’t overpower. I felt like I could, and wanted to, drink an entire one of these. Hope to see you again in slightly under a year.
But let’s end on a positive note. You won’t go wrong with any regularly available Krispy Kreme flavors, like caramel, mocha and vanilla. They’re nicely blended, balanced and flavorful without clobbering you with sucrose.
Dutch Bros. Cocomo Freeze
Coffee chain Dutch Bros., with a cute little windmill logo, has hundreds of locations nationwide. If you happen to be near one, consider stopping by. Dutch Bros.’ take on the slushy coffee drink, called a Dutch Freeze, is excellent. The Cocomo has a mild, nutty coconut flavor and is reminiscent of a frozen Mounds bar, for those of you who are fans.
Dunkin’ Donuts Frozen Coffee
We all know why we get Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Here’s a hint: It’s not because you want to taste coffee. It’s because you want sweet, creamy candy with just a hint of coffee flavor. And the Frozen Coffee is exactly what you expect and want it to be. It is a cup of Dunkin’ coffee, in the form of a shopping mall Icee. It’s rich and sweet, resembling a coffee milkshake more than any of the other brands, and it’s totally delightful.
McDonald’s Caramel Frappe
McDonald’s is going pretty heavily into its McCafé brand and has transformed itself into, among other things, a decent place to get an average cup of coffee. It has two flavors of blended coffee drinks too, caramel and mocha, of which caramel is clearly superior. It’s one of the only caramel-flavored drinks I tried that doesn’t cross a line into cloying while maintaining a steady, buttery caramel flavor.
Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino
We now come to Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, which has, ironically, some of the world’s worst coffee. It’s fair to say that Starbucks owes a lot to the Frappuccino, the famous portmanteau that was originally developed by Boston-based chain the Coffee Connection, which wasacquired by Starbucks, along with rights to the drink’s name, for $23 million in 1994. You think Starbucks is pretty happy with its end of the deal? The Frappuccino has become the standard-bearer of the frozen coffee drink and, while not actually the best one out there, has the broadest, most well-considered menu of flavors. The Java Chip is a perennial favorite, with a satisfying chocolaty grit that’s fun to chew but doesn’t turn into labor.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Mocha Ice Blended
Couple of fun facts: Thefirst Coffee Bean storeopened in Brentwood in the 1960s. It has a surprisingly expansive worldwide footprint, with shops in countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh — I was surprised to see a Coffee Bean on a trip to India a few years ago. Lastly, it’s not “Iced Blended,” it’s “Ice Blended,” so be sure to bone up on your terminology before your visit. The mocha is the original flavor, and it’s the one you’re going to want to go with. It tastes like a decent piece of mass-produced chocolate, like a Cadbury Flake bar — smooth and milky, without the dusty flavor of chocolate syrup that sometimes mars the mocha varieties of these drinks.
Pretty much every other Freeze I tried at Dutch Bros.
Dutch Bros., which was literally founded by acouple of Dutch bros(brothers of Dutch descent), has some other great flavors — the Golden Eagle, a sweet vanilla-caramel combo, and the Picture Perfect, which pushes the boundaries of decadence with chocolate and caramel syrups. The seasonal Candy Cane Freeze is another winner. It’s essentially a frozen peppermint mocha that nicely balances the mint with chocolate and coffee flavors and is neither too medicinal nor too sweet.
Starbucks Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Frappuccino
Surprise! This option with plant-based milk (that the company insists on spelling “almondmilk,” one word, makes me pause slightly) surpasses many of the dairy-based beverages in quality. Sometimes a cookie-flavored syrup can taste overly manufactured, but in this case, the slight nuttiness and gentle chalkiness of the almond milk works to the drink’s advantage to create a mild, buttery baked sensation. It’s a nice union of flavors.
A note on Starbucksholiday flavorslike this one and others I mention in this article: A barista at my local store explained that the company doesn’t have a firm cutoff date for holiday drinks but rather stops shipping syrups; this means stores can keep making the drinks until they run out of product. It varies from store to store and depends on the popularity of the drinks.
The Not So Bad
Krispy Kreme Original Glazed and Sugar Cookie Frozen Lattes
The Original Glazed and seasonal Sugar Cookie Frozen Lattes are decent, but these flavors don’t quite reach the heights of the better ones listed above. The Sugar Cookie has slight plasticky undertones, like drinking a cup of sprinkles or nonpareils. The Original Glazed flavor doesn’t taste much like a doughnut at all — in fact, it tastes a lot like the Sugar Cookie.
Peet’s Holiday Spice Frappe
This is the one drink from Peet’s that was halfway decent. I don’t often love the generic profile of “holiday spice,” but this drink tastes like your lips after a pull off of a clove cigarette: sweet and pungent. It’s warm and cozy, despite the literal coldness of the drink, and tastes of cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s hygge in slush form. N.B.: I called a local Peet’s store and was told that this flavor has a decent chance to remain available for a while beyond the holiday season; however, an employee at a different Peet’s store said they likely would stop selling the flavor soon after the holidays, so YMMV.
Panera Frozen Chocolate Cold Brew
I was hoping for more from Panera; this is decent, not great. The flavor of its frozen chocolate cold brew is a bit like Hershey’s syrup but redeemed by a decent texture: a little on the loose side, but well-blended and not too thin.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Cookies & Cream, Hazelnut, Vanilla and Caramel Ice Blendeds
My general feeling about the Coffee Bean is that I always leave wishing it were a bit better than it is. Its Ice Blendeds have a texture that’s slightly too icy, and these four flavors, while not terrible, are also nothing to write home about. Cookies & cream is probably the best of them, as it’s a flavor that’s almost impossible to screw up.
McDonald’s Mocha Frappe
There’s good texture to the McDonald’s frappes, but go with the caramel instead of mocha, which has a little too much of that bite of commercial chocolate syrup, like sucking on a chocolate-flavored penny.
Starbucks Mocha, Espresso, Caramel Ribbon Crunch, etc., Frappuccinos
Collectively, most of the 17 different Starbucks coffee-based Frappuccinos I tried fall in this middle category — I won’t list them all, but I do want to highlight a couple of the flavors. Mocha is solid, with a simple and deep, pleasing chocolateness. Espresso is striking if only for its strong coffee flavor — if you want to actually be reminded of coffee, this is the one to get. Caramel Ribbon Crunch and the similar Caramel Brûlée are a bit syrupy but have fun caramel candy bits to munch on.
Peet’s Coffee Mocha, Caramel, Chicory and Peppermint Frappes
I love Peet’s Coffee. I can feel the judgment coming off the coffee snobs, and I welcome it.Major Dickason’s Blend, all day long. So it breaks my heart to say that the folks there really need to work on their blended frozen coffee drink game. The mocha frappe had a stinging, strong syrup flavor; the caramel tasted like almost nothing; the chicory was somehow even more of a nonentity. Peet’s frappes had the worst texture of all the brands I tried — exceedingly icy like a bad snow cone, with big chunks near the top of the drink and pure liquid at the bottom.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Cookie Butter Ice Blended
It’s not horrendous, but Cookie Butter was my least favorite of the Coffee Bean flavors I tried. It seems like they’re going for that signature speculoos cookie butter or gingerbread house/graham cracker kind of flavor, but it comes across as a bit too industrial.
Panera Frozen Caramel Cold Brew
Good effort, good hustle, but way too sweet; I couldn’t drink more than a sip of this.
Starbucks Apple Crisp Oatmilk, Chestnut Praline and Caffe Vanilla Frappuccinos
Not every Frappuccino is going to be a winner, or even drinkable, and I have a grievance with these particular flavors, which nearly caused me to set my cup down and walk out the door after one sip. The Apple Crisp Oatmilk (again, one word) gets worse as you progress, as much of the appley-crispy flavor dredge gradually settles near the bottom of the cup. It’s also, uh, powerful. In the words of our audience engagement editor, Amy Wong: It tastes like a Yankee Candle.
She’s right: It’s the apple-scented body wash of coffee drinks. Chestnut Praline has an ersatz roasted flavor that tastes too chemically. And while I expect Frappuccinos to have plenty of sugar, the Caffe Vanilla was far sweeter than I bargained for. It’s not likely I’ll order it again.
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